Fowl Play 

Otter’s Chicken Tenders shows that by specializing in one thing, you can do it really, really well

Otter’s Chicken Tenders shows that by specializing in one thing, you can do it really, really well

Otter’s Chicken Tenders

1528 Demonbreun St. 255-1415

www.otterschicken.com

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Wed.; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thurs.-Sat.

If I were a believer in conspiracy theories, I would suspect fowl play behind the skyrocketing beef prices currently sucking the blood out of every red-meat-heavy restaurant from Fat Mo’s to The Palm. The cattle people cite a summer drought as the cause of smaller herds; this, combined with the popularity of the beefed-up Atkins Diet, has created a completely unavoidable jump in costs to the industry, which in turn gets passed on to the retailer, which of course gets passed on to you, the hapless consumer.

If you can’t stomach paying a king’s ransom for your working man’s burger, there is no shortage of dining alternatives, particularly in the chicken category, which is what I mean by fowl play. The South, and Nashville especially, has always had a fondness for the barnyard bird, in many different forms. Meat-and-threes are judged by their skillet-fried chicken, young women have been drummed out of the Junior League for putting dark meat in their chicken salad, local chef Martha Stamps crusades to preserve the endangered chicken croquettes, and heated arguments have broken out over just who has the best hot chicken in town and who stole whose secret recipe.

Nashville’s chicken choices were expanded a couple years ago with the opening of Zoe’s Kitchen, a cheery, casual café with a poultry-friendly menu. The parking spaces outside the Greens Hills store are consistently filled with Suburbans and Tahoes, the slim and fit drivers grabbing a quick lunch or picking up a Zoe’s Famous Greek Chicken Dinner for the family table.

Otter’s Chicken Tenders, which recently opened in the rapidly developing Demonbreun Street mall, has added another white meat option. There’s not a family-friendly restaurant in town that doesn’t have chicken fingers on its menu—native Nashvillians are convinced they were invented by Houston’s—but owner Talbott Ottinger is following the lead of medical and law students: specializing. By focusing on just one thing, Ottinger shows that you can do it really, really well, and Otter’s definitely showers the TLC on its tenders. They are fresh, never frozen. Marinated for extra flavor—chicken’s blandness begs for flavor enhancement—the strips are fried or grilled, then served on a bun, in a wrap, on a salad or on their own, with a quartet of sauce choices.

Box combos include an order of tenders, fries, Texas toast, slaw and a drink; tender meals are sized from seven to 20 pieces and come with Texas toast. I don’t get the Texas toast myself—it’s just biggie-sized Bunny Bread, if you ask me, but men seem to love it.

Big parties, or big appetites, get a real deal with the Tailgate trays—sized in increments of 25, going up to 100. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I put the tenders to the test with a big party of big appetites: Eight hardworking members of the Nashville Fire Department, hunkered down between calls in front of Station 9’s big screen for the Titans-Jacksonville game. Well into the second quarter, I brought in one tray of 25 grilled tenders, one tray of 25 fried tenders, several orders of fries, a sandwich, a wrap and a salad. The tailgate tenders are packed in large aluminum trays, perfect for sticking in the oven to keep warm just in case a house fire or medic call interrupts your meal.

Though the grilled tenders were moist and flavorful, seven of eight firefighters agree that the fried tenders—with their golden, crisped exterior, plump bites of juicy white meat and a little bit of peppery heat in the batter—kicked butt. All four sauces—Otter’s house variety, barbecue, spicy buffalo and honey mustard—had good, homemade taste, though the honey mustard scored highest. Fries are crinkle-cut and took a penalty for loss of crispiness in travel time.

Though beer is never an option at a fire hall, customers who dine in at Otter’s can have a cold one, or a bucket o’ beers for just $10 (domestic) or $12 (import). The comfortable dining area is decorated with SEC sports memorabilia and has three televisions and a projector TV screen. With its established tenants Two Doors Down and Tin Roof, this one-block strip of Demonbreun might have the most concentrated density of SportsCenter viewers in town. Is it any coincidence that all three are within easy walking distance of Off-Broadway Shoe Warehouse? I think not.

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